India defends sale of Heathrow slots to Etihad

Cheating claims over $70m sale of three slots to Etihad as it seeks to buy 24% stake in Jet Airways

The Indian civil aviation ministry has defended Jet Airways’ sale of three landing and departure slots at London’s Heathrow Airport to Etihad Airways, slamming allegations of cheating as "absolutely baseless and false”.

Etihad, the UAE national carrier, bought the slots, which are permission for an airline to use an airport, for $70m as a precursor to its bid to buy a 24 percent stake in India’s largest carrier.

Several Indian MPs have criticised the sale, as well as Etihad’s plans to invest in Jet Airways. They claim the slots should have gone to government-run Air India because the carrier has been consistently trying to operate more flights to Heathrow, which is operating near capacity.

In a statement, the aviation ministry said the slots were not owned by the Indian government and it was not involved in the sale, although Jet obtained permission from the Reserve Bank of India to sell them to a foreign airline.

Airlines commonly sell or lease all or some of the slots it does not require. More than 500 slots were traded at Heathrow in 2012, according to the airport.

Meanwhile, analysts also have raised doubt over whether India will approve Etihad’s bid for a stake in Jet. The deadline for regulatory approval is July 31.

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